If you went down to see our neighbours in Bicester last August, you were sure of a big surprise. In fact, if you went down to see our neighbours in Bicester last August, you wouldn’t believe your eyes. It was the site of the town’s annual Teddy Bear’s Picnic, which is believed to be the largest gathering of its kind anywhere in the country!
Bicester Town Council stage and sponsor the yearly event, which is open to families and children of all ages. There was entertainment provided, picnics were actively encouraged, and games were available for humans a teddy bears alike to take part in. People travel from all around to be a part of the celebrations, and an unofficial headcount suggests around one thousand people descended upon the town to be part of the celebrations. No figures are available to confirm how many individual teddy bears came along for the ride, but judging by the pictures of everybody’s favorite childhood friends, there were plenty of cuddly companions present on the day, both vintage and brand new, this was truly a festival of fluffy favourites and all of the family was well entertained.
Entry was free of charge, which made it accessible for everybody, and the town’s current mayor Sean Gaul is a big fan of the event. He was there along with his wife Louise and their own three year old son Miles, with the couple judging the “Best Dressed Teddy” competition. According to Mrs Gaul, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“We had some dressed as astronauts”, she said, “there was a giant teddy bear, a few characters such as one teddy dressed as the Pokemon Pikachu, or there were some dressed as Disney princesses”.
Clearly impressed by the effort people had gone to, she continued “Some children even dressed up in costume too, which was really lovely to see, and to have such a range of teddy bears”.
The best dressed ten on the day were selected and put on stage for all to see, with the very best three rewarded with vouchers for Bicester’s Coles Bookstore.
Once attendees had their fill of the teddy bear based entertainment, there were plenty more activities on hand to keep people occupied. That included a climbing wall, go carts, a petting zoo full of exotic animals, an obstacle course and even drumming workshops. Who knows how many percussionists of the future got their start at the event? We feel sorry for all the parents who are now going to be asked to buy their children a drum kit for Christmas!
If it all got too much for people, they were free to go and blow off some steam on the mountain biking track, or sit with the children and watch a show put on by a magic bubble man.
The love and collection of teddy bears is a peculiarly British habit, although it didn’t start off that way. It’s believed the world’s first teddy bears were produced at almost the same time by Morris Michtom in the USA, and Richard Steiff in Germany. It was the American variation that gave the popular toy its name, although the story behind it isn’t the most cheerful. The ‘teddy’ actually comes from American President Theodore Roosevelt, who was the nation’s 26th President, serving from 1901 to 1909. On a hunting expedition in Mississippi in 1902, the day was drawing on and the President was yet to secure a trophy for the day, which prompted his attendants to try to secure one for him.
They hunted down a brown bear after prolonged and tiring chase with hounds, and tied it to a tree, presenting Roosevelt with an easy target. The President, though, was less than impressed. He considered shooting the prone bear to be unsportsmanlike, and ordered that it instead be released and put out of its misery.
The story circulated in the national press in the days after the incident, with the President’s refusal to shoot the bear seen as a sign of his compassion and character, and it was a cartoon drawn by Clifford Berryman in the Washington Post that caught the eye of Michtom and inspired him to create the first range of toys. Berryman had exaggerated the cuteness of the bear, making it smaller and giving it enlarged eyes and ears, and the look served as a template for his design. He had to write to Roosevelt for permission to use the ‘Teddy’ name, which was granted, and the toys went into mass production the same year.
Their enduring appeal has never really faded. The market for teddy bears was last professionally estimated n 2006, when it was given as £1.6bn annually, and we can safely assume it will only have increased since then. Even the DIY trend has played to the advantage for the toys’ longevity, with “Build a Bear” stores being popular fixtures in many major shopping outlets. These days in American there’s even an official “Teddy Bear Cops” program, where police, fire and emergency workers are issued with teddy bears to hand out to children in distressing situations and keep them calm!
The event in Bicester, as it has done previously, turned out to be a success for both those in attendance and for the council themselves, who see it as an integral part of the summer’s festivities within the town. As it grows in both popularity and reputation, it’s expected to become more and more of a focus in years to come. For that reason, if you missed out this year there’s no reason to fret. You’ll be more than welcome next time around, and the town would love to host you for the day.
Mr Gaul said “The event went really well. My wife and I have been going to the event for a few years now and it definitely felt like the busiest yet this time. It shows the event has really taken off, which is great. I’d like to congratulate the council for hosting a brilliant, free event for the community here in Bicester”.